Mike Zalewski attended Stepping Stones from 1984 to 1990. A talented hockey player, Michael played Junior “A” hockey in both Grand Rapids, Michigan and throughout Ontario, Canada.
While attending SUNY Buffalo, Mike played collegiate hockey while earning a B.S. in Elementary Education. He graduated with honors and was a four-time All-SUNYAC Academic Athlete. Mike subsequently earned a MSE in Educational Leadership from Arkansas State University.
Mike lives in Wake Forest, North Carolina with his wife and son. He is currently the Human Resources Director for Franklin County Schools. Due his exceptional service, he was awarded the Franklin County Superintendent’s Award in 2014.
Recently, he returned to Grand Rapids and spoke with SSMS.
What is your favorite Stepping Stones memory?
I loved how Stepping Stones introduced us to different cultures. I really enjoyed the pin and puzzle maps and how those lessons translated into an awareness of global diversity.
We celebrated so many world holidays and traditions! One year our holiday program included songs in at least four languages and several different faiths. I really loved the annual crêpe sale, which supported our French pen pal program.
What did you enjoy most about Montessori education?
I really appreciated the independence. Our teachers respected us and allowed us to flourish. I was an energetic kid! Montessori let me explore my classroom and learn to harness that energy.
Early on, coaching and education became a passion. Why were you attracted to teaching?
I started coaching hockey in high school. It was exciting being a mentor and guide to young people. Then, while playing Junior “A” hockey in Ontario, I was able to volunteer at a local school. Somehow, I ended up leading lessons on Canadian History!
I realized that becoming an educator would allow me to make a positive impact on children and the world. Now, I’m proud to use my experience to hire and develop talented educators in Franklin County.
I also think that my experience at Stepping Stones led me to a career in education. I had amazing teachers—Sister Maria especially. We were taught that learning and leadership are lifelong activities. In a lot of ways, that is the foundation of everything I do professionally.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned by working with children?
Working with children was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve done! I taught in a wide variety of schools, from urban to suburban to rural. However, no matter where I was, this was always true: Each student’s day and work directly reflect the teacher’s attitude and respect for them.
How do you benefit from your Montessori education today?
Montessori gave me a strong foundation. I credit my ongoing love of learning to my time at Stepping Stones. We were taught to work hard, ask questions, and exhibit compassion.
What advice do you have for Stepping Stones’ current students?
Never be afraid to try. Failure may happen, but it will provide you the road map to future success.